COMMENTARY: Nuclear Breakdown

Doing the Numbers in Honor of an Atomic Anniversary

It took 14 years and

March of 2009 marks the 30th anniversary of the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, which reduced support for the industry to an atomic level—until now. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that 21 companies are applying to build 34 new power plants in the U.S. Here’s a look back at nuclear’s radioactive history.

1969. Year the oldest nuclear plant operating in the US, located in Oyster Creek, NJ, was issued its license.

1973. The last year a license was issued for the construction of a new nuclear plant in the U.S.

2,000. Metric tons of radioactive waste produced each year by U.S. nuclear power plants

5. Number of 1,000 MW reactors the U.S. would have to build every year for the next fifty years to make a significant dent in America’s carbon footprint.

19.4. Percentage of total U.S. electricity derived from nuclear technology in 2007.

14.2. Percentage of electricity worldwide derived from nuclear technology in 2007.

73.7. Percentage of electricity that Vermont derives from nuclear technology (the most of any U.S. state)

76.8. Percentage of electricity France derived from nuclear technology in 2007.

90. Percentage of the uranium used in U.S. nuclear power production that is imported; much of it comes from Russia

2025. Year that China is expected to rank among the world’s top five nuclear producers, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration

27 billion. Number of dollars that the India-U.S. nuclear pack signed in 2008 could provide for investment in nuclear plants in India over the next 15 years

996. Metric tons of CO2 emitted from a coal-fired power plant to produce 1 million kWh of electricity

476. Metric tons of CO2 emitted from a natural gas-fired plant to produce 1 million kWh of electricity

0. Metric tons of CO2 emitted from a nuclear plant to produce 1 million kWh of electricity

240,000. Number of years radioactive waste remains hazardous, according to Greenpeace

1987. Year when Congress selected Nevada’s Yucca Mountain to study as the first high-level nuclear waste repository, which has yet to be built

13.5 billion. Number of dollars spent on Yucca Mountain so far

39. Number of states that store spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste above ground

56. Approximate number of deaths directly attributed to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster

7,700. Number of barn swallows studied in the Chernobyl wildlife sanctuary; the study found abnormalities like albinism, unusual coloring, tumors and body deformities

9,000. Number of people who could eventually die from the Chernobyl fallout

24,000. Number of Americans who die each year from diseases related to emissions from coal-fired power plants

14. Number of years required to clean up Three Mile Island, at a cost of $1 billion

342. Number of safety violations to date at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant on The Simpsons

150. Approximate number of nuclear-powered naval vessels worldwide

300-500 million. Estimated cost in dollars of decommissioning a nuclear plant

4. Number of presidents who pronounce (or pronounced) nuclear as "nucular" (George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Dwight Eisenhower)

JESSICA A. KNOBLAUCH is a freelance environmental writer.